Hopefully you have been following the adventures of the Hell Ride so far. If you haven't, you stink. Don't be a D-bag and make me explain everything that happened up to this point. Order the last six back issues of this awe-inspiring magazine, study up on Hell, eat some Pop Rocks, and call me in the morning. Don't really call me; call my editor Toph. He's obviously lonely because he has way too much time on his hands to sit around and delete naughty words from my stories. If you have been following this torrid tale, read on, but I warn you, this is the last installment. That's right. After this, there's no more Hell, only rainbows and unicorns...I think. If you are still being a dork and need a refresher, I've been on the road all over this damn country. I started out with a crew of five on a journey from L.A. to the Sturgis biker rally. After Sturgis, I broke out on my own to head through the northern states, on to Michigan's Upper Peninsula and then to the Harley control center in Milwaukee.
The first thing you might be wondering is, "Why is this dude going to Michigan to get to someplace in Wisconsin?" Well, that's really my business isn't it? But I understand your questioning. The small village of Copper Harbor is nestled near the tip on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, about 1,000 miles north of Harley's headquarters. Let's face it: the state of Michigan is geographically stupid. First, it is shaped like a mitten. Who planned that? But then there is this strange other part of the state that doesn't belong that confuses everyone when you try to talk about it. Anyway, Copper Harbor is on the Keweenaw Peninsula. How it is not part of cheese-land makes no sense to me. But alas, the tip of Michigan and the area's lonely shoreline beckoned.
I have to admit the ride wasn't lonely at all. I had picked up my girlfriend, Dacia, at the airport in Duluth, Minnesota, so she could join me for the rest of the journey. But, if you were a faithful reader, you'd already know that. We headed north on US 41, also known as the Copper Country Trail National Byway. The trail cuts through the center of the peninsula on smooth blacktop, but at times, the asphalt was the only hint we were anywhere near civilization (if you can call Michigan's UP civilization). The road bends like a lazy river with its shores shaded by trees growing thicker than my butt hair. The sun blinked in and out of the leaves creating a sort of midday rave as we rode through endless archways on our way to what seemed like the tip of the earth rather than just the tip of Michigan. Very important note: There is only one gas station in Copper Harbor and its hours are sketchy. Do yourself a favor and fill up in the town of Calumet on your way in.
Copper Harbor (copperharbor.org) is the gateway drug to Isle Royal National Park. Those wanting a fix can take a ferry, but Isle Royal is for hoofers only. We preferred to skip the three-hour boat ride and stay with the bike. Apparently the hangover cure in Copper is not a Bloody Mary, it's a sunrise ride up Brockway Mountain Drive. You can't miss it, unless you are a total moron, as the route begins at the only stoplight in town. Be sure you are actually sober before going, of course. Brockway is peppered with potholes. Even if you avoid all of the messed up asphalt, you still have to be aware of all of the other drivers more concerned with the beautiful vista of Lake Superior and the 360-degree views of the area.
After our sunrise excursion up the mountain, we hit the Berry Patch for locally made ice cream with thimbleberry sauce. I know, it wasn't the smartest breakfast, but it was berry good. Other options are to head out, or shall I say come out, to Gay, Michigan, to get its version of surf and turf, sardines, and a Slim Jim, at the Gay Bar. "Dude, that is so gay," I told Dacia as she gave me the stink eye for calling her dude, again. But the place serves a mean veggie dog.
The trip to Harley-town was bittersweet. On one hand (not Michigan's hand, my hand) I was glad I'd be sleeping in my own bed back in Chicago soon. I was glad to not have a six-plus-hour ride ahead of me each day. Yet, on the other hand, I was bummed about the exact same things. When would I get back out here again? And how would Chad's accident affect me the next time I set out on a marathon ride? I had to admit I was a bit worried I'd let fear rob me of this passion once out of the saddle for a few days. I could still smell all the blood.
This whole adventure had started as a fun trip to test out next year's full dressers. The trip hadn't been easy to begin with. It was a ride through Hell for some parts. We had started at night from L.A. to avoid traffic and the scorching desert temps. Some of us had experienced heat exhaustion the very first day. But Chad crashed near Telluride, Colorado, and lost his arm and nearly his life. It took the Medi-Vac nearly three hours to arrive. I am not sure how we made the hard decision to keep on going. The ride continued to beat us down. After Colorado, we rode through Nebraska and faced 60-plus-mph winds and the threat of bone-breaking hail. Finally, the HR squadron made it to Sturgis where I tried to get into the Hell's Angel's clubhouse and took part in destroying a car, if only as a passenger.
The trip was life changing, but at the same time, it wasn't. I continued on. At first, while riding through the Dakotas I thought of Chad every time I got on or even saw a bike, which was a lot. I remembered what the exposed bone looked like and turned it over and over again in my head, sometimes faster than the wheels spinning below me. I remembered the dark skies looming while I tried to hold my bike upright in the wind. I also remembered the impossible Doctor Seuss-like formations we saw in Utah. But for some reason, I began to block it out. I had to.
Was it a way to protect myself? I think I was too scared to think about any of the trip while out there alone in fear that Chad's accident would flash before my eyes and keep me off bikes forever. Chad expected to go down someday, but he rode anyway. Riding has always been his way of seeking freedom. Riding is a smile to life. While on a motorcycle, I am forced to focus on the present. I am forced to use all of my senses. While in a car or walking around the street, my senses feel numb and I am numbed to everyone else around me. Numb to the homeless guy on the corner, numb to life. On a motorcycle, with all of my senses on high alert, I tap into not only myself but other people, too.
After witnessing Chad's accident, I should stop riding. I should be aware of the dangers and realize that losing a limb or death is not worth it. But I will continue. Every day I will lift a leg over the saddle. Until I find a different way, motorcycle riding is the only way I can truly feel aware. Alive.